John Williamson to run

The news came this morning from the Telegraph Journal that the Prime Minister’s director of communications, John Williamson, would be seeking Greg Thompson’s seat in the next election should he win the nomination.

I spoke to Mr. Thompson by phone this afternoon and the former Minister of Veterans Affairs told me that he’s known John’s family for years and that he called John himself and encouraged him to run. Thompson says he hopes for a broad field of well qualified-nomination contestants and believes John would do well.

The Prime Minister’s office offered the following on Williamson’s projected departure from the office, “Like a lot of Atlantic Canadians, John went elsewhere for a job.  But he is now returning to the only place he calls home.”

I’ve also learned that the Prime Minister has been pleased with Williamson’s work and that had Greg Thompson not announced his retirement, John would be staying put.  He has said that his job is not easy, but he is glad that he accepted it in August and enjoys working for the Prime Minister, which he feels is “an honour and an exceptional privilege”.

Also, I’ve come to understand that John will not commence his nomination campaign until once he has left PMO. In the meantime, John will devote all of his efforts to government business and as an added precaution, he will have no involvement in New Brunswick issues and files.

Williamson will no doubt be a strong contender for nomination and his history both on the partisan/government side as Harper comms and movement side with the CTF and Manning Centre will likely offer the voters of New Bruswick Southwest the confidence they’d need to elect him to Parliament after the next election.

Good luck, John.

Regarding the rewording of O Canada, the PMO speaks…

“We offered to hear from Canadians on this issue and they have already spoken loud and clear. They overwhelmingly do not want to open the issue. The Government will not proceed any further to change our national anthem.”

“Nous avons consulté les Canadiens et Canadiennes sur cette question, et ceux-ci se sont exprimés haut et fort : par une immense majorité, ils ne veulent pas ouvrir ce dossier. Le gouvernement n’ira pas plus loin en vue de modifier l’hymne national.”

Dimitri Soudas, official spokesman for the Prime Minister

Stop the Presses! Website changes!

Today’s non-story from the breathless Ottawa press comes from Bruce Cheadle of Canadian Press who writes this National Newswatch headlining story,

“Harper photos removed from government website”

The background from this story is that the opposition has been complaining about the nature of the government’s advertising of their “Economic Action Plan” and have described the website of the plan as overtly partisan describing “Harper’s government” and taglines allegedly promoting the longevity of the government, “we can’t stop now”.

In this frame, Mr. Cheadle determines that the Economic Action Plan website is missing 20 photos of the Prime Minister. The Action Plan website contains about 34,500 pages. And, the significance of 20 “removed” photos? According to Cheadle, this may show a reaction to criticism and an acknowledgement of a guilty “Harper government” partisan conscience.

This website here at stephentaylor.ca, and many websites created after 2003 change on a regular basis. When I write a new post on this blog, content appears on the top and then drops off the bottom and is archived. I do not remove the content, but the website changes.

But goodness, 20 photos are suddenly not visible in the same way as the day before? This must be indicative of a vast conspiratorial government cover-up.

On the main homepage of the Economic Action Plan there is a timeline of “real actions” which features a series of photos that link to news stories about the government’s economic stimulus under the plan. One presumes Cheadle is talking about this timeline slideshow because the Prime Minister is still visible in 75% of the photos under the “Action plan highlights” section which dominates the top third of the homepage. Further, photos on press releases and other pages seem to remain in place.

As for the timeline, these photos link to news releases describing the stimulus underway. This timeline updates, ahem, over time and when new content becomes available — or is highlighted — old content is archived. In fact, a Google search shows 421 news releases available on the Action Plan website. Since a showcase of 421 news releases wouldn’t in fact be a “showcase”, a select number is highlighted. The controversy here is that this timeline has changed over time. Does the showcase timeline today reflect less of Stephen Harper’s happy face? Possibly. But fret not, tomorrow we may see more of it!

And to top it all off, a late breaking update of the wire story shows us that the bureaucrats (non-political staff) at PCO deny that the PM’s pictures were removed! (The conspiracy goes deep…)

Monday evening, the same PCO spokeswoman called The Canadian Press with a single talking point that can in no way be reconciled with the altered appearance of the site:

“We have not removed any pictures of the PM,” said Myriam Massabki.

“Single talking point” and “can in no way be reconciled”? Sounds like it’s the government of Canada’s word against Bruce Cheadle, amateur web surfer. In fairness, I’m glad Cheadle updated the story to include the quote even though he shows us that he doesn’t believe a word of it.

The point? The site changed because that’s what sites do over time. Content was not removed, it is still available on the government’s server. In fact, all of the non-removed Action Plan news releases (with pictures) can be viewed here.

You can judge for yourself:
Here is Economic Action plan as it appears today
Here is the same site as cached by Google on September 16th

Finally, let’s consider what this is all about. The criticism is that Prime Minister is a partisan advertisement for the implementation of government policy. Isn’t this argument absurd?

ASIDE: Another criticism highlighted in the CP story is that the latest round of Economic Action Plan ads cost the government $5 million compared to $2 million spent on H1N1 ads.

Here are two issues that have a psychological component.

For economic stimulus, a large part of its purpose and success is affecting consumer confidence. As for H1N1, handwashing and vaccine readiness helps but fueling hysteria does not.

UPDATE 7:43pm: The Prime Minister’s office has just put out the following,

ACTION PLAN WEBSITE: CORRECTING THE RECORD

Canadian Press reporter Bruce Cheadle has falsely reported that photographs of the Prime Minister have been removed from www.actionplan.gc.ca .

These reports are not true. Here are the facts:

* No photographs of the Prime Minister have been removed from the Action Plan website;

* Canadians have a right to know where and how the Government’s stimulus is being spent, and the Action Plan website helps provide this accountability;

* In addition, the website contains important information for Canadians on certain stimulus measures like the Home Renovation Tax Credit that are only available for a limited time.

PMO listserv exploited by anti-Harper activist

I just received this email from pm@pm.gc.ca which was spoofed quite easily on the Conservative Party website willyoubetricked.com

Somebody emailed the PMO listserve address sending this email to whoever signed up on the Prime Minister’s government website for the email mailing list. Someone should look into the legality of using the Government of Canada’s resources to impersonate the Prime Minister.

The email seems to have originated in Winnipeg from an MTS Allstream account from this IP: 142.161.178.253.

Kory Teneycke is Stephen Harper’s new Director of Communications

Congratulations to Kory and thank you for taking up the cost of the job. A former lobbyist, Teneycke is now subject to future lobbying restrictions of the Federal Accountability Act. Though with this cost comes greater personal honour of serving Canadians.

Today the news hit the wire: Kory Teneycke is the new director of communications for the Prime Minister’s Office.

In Langevin, I’ve heard that new chief of staff Guy Giorno is telling communications staff that the theme from now until the writ is “be political”. As the new director of communications, Teneycke will assume this role of actively building positive political momentum in the messaging of the government, something that was somewhat muted under the former director.

Under Sandra Buckler, the communications strategy seemed to be more of a shield; the former D.Comm. was effective in circling the wagons closely and the government only messaged to mitigate damage or give a basic understanding of its agenda.

Under Teneycke, I’ve come to understand that the strategy will be more of a sword. The communications strategy of the Teneycke comms shoppe will be proactive in its approach, it will get ahead of message and set the political tone from the Conservative government’s perspective.

Sandra Buckler resigns as Director of Communications

Sandra Buckler, Stephen Harper\'s Director of CommunicationsToday, Sandra Buckler informed her friends and colleagues that she’ll be leaving the Prime Minister’s office as Director of Communications.

Buckler started with the PMO shortly after the Conservatives took power in February 2006 and has served the PM for 28 months. She served in the Conservative war-room during the election and was one of the most effective communicators during that time. Her skills impressed Stephen Harper and the Prime-Minister-elect hired her on as his Comms boss.

In her role as one of Harper’s senior advisers, she often butted heads with members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery as the Prime Minister sought to define his communications style as disciplined and focused in contrast to Paul Martin’s frantic and chaotic style. Her departure comes as the PM’s new chief of staff Guy Giorno takes the helm in Langevin.

A moderate shuffle among senior staff is expected under the new boss and Buckler’s departure comes after two and one half years in government. The departure of Harper’s departing chief of staff Ian Brodie indicates a major reconfiguration has been in the works at the highest levels of government and Giorno and the new DComm will seek to put their own mark on upper management.

Sandra has earned a well-deserved rest. Best wishes and a job well done.

Cabinet to change tomorrow

I just received this email from PMO:

What can we learn from this?

New cabinet ministers. Backbenchers/PSs/SecStates (more than one) getting promoted. That’s how I read the email.

PMO pushes, CTV pushes back, and I give a small shove for good measure

From Susan Delacourt’s blog:

Yesterday, at the end of CTV’s Question Period broadcast, there was some strong and remarkable evidence of journalists pushing back against the Prime Minister’s Office. Rather than explain the story, why don’t I just put the transcript here? I would imagine we’ll be hearing more about this in the days to come:

JANE TABER: Craig, we’ve got to address a complaint. We received a complaint from the Prime Minister’s director of communications Sandra Buckler about something you said on the show about the fact the Environment Minister or the Finance Minister would not come on to talk about Dion’s green plan.

CRAIG OLIVER: And it was accurate for me to say they had both turned us down. However, they did offer us Jason Kenney, the Minister of Multiculturalism, to attack the government’s green plan, and we said, sorry, we’re not talking about multiculturalism, we’re talking about taxation or we’re talking about environment. And so they’re insisting that we should take their person. And the question really is who’s producing the show? Are we producing the show or is the Prime Minister’s office producing the show? Would somebody tell me?

First Jason Kenney gets rebuffed by CTV and then Craig Oliver mistakes the Liberals for the government (and Stephane Dion as the Prime Minister by extension)

ADDENDUM: Why wouldn’t Jason Kenney be permitted to speak for the government? After all, he was the first one quoted on the Conservative “Will You Be Tricked” ad campaign in Sun Media. He’s been quoted in just about every Conservative Party press release attacking Dion’s Tax Shift plan. Kenney has also been the government point man in QP answering all of the questions put forward by the Liberals on the topic of the environment during this latest Tax Trick/Green Shift arc. Kenney also had a press conference at the National Press Theatre to give the government’s reaction to Dion’s plan. It sets a horrible precedent for journalists to choose who can respond on behalf of the government.

Ministerial staffers back on Facebook

I’ve learned that in a reversal of internal government policy this past week, Conservative ministerial staffers are once again permitted to keep a Facebook profile on the popular social networking website.

Indeed, Facebook has become the latest killer online app and for some, it has replaced email for messaging friends and scheduling events and parties.

Earlier, I opined that the ‘corporate’ Facebook ban implemented by the Conservatives on their political staff was a shrewd move made to prevent a hungry media and opposition from exploiting personal material not intended for “front-page” exposure. A complete ban may have been harsh, yet the careless use of the site would have also been less than ideal. Thus, in policy refinement and compromise, the government has found a new optimum that works for everyone.

I’ve learned that each department has been tasked with implementing a policy on the use of Facebook for their staff, particularly concerning which privacy settings ought to be adjusted to both allow employees the use of the popular social networking tool and to allow a government known for its tight messaging to keep any loose ends from sticking out. The policy might be considered analogous to any other employee code of conduct, but this one is specialized for a website.

Ministerial facebookers will be pleased by the move and their employers will remain conscious of how to maintain the ideal balance.

Facebook freeze

I was wondering when this would finally happen…

Facebook, perhaps the most popular social networking site in the world where one can build a network among friends, acquaintances and professionals is to no longer be used by Conservative ministerial exempt staff.

Frankly, I’m surprised it took this long. Facebook pages are like semi-private blogs that can include off-colour comments by colleagues, photos from last night’s bender and can even display deeply personal details such as one’s relationship status and sexual preference. Blogs understandably represented a communications challenge amongst a team that prides itself on tight messaging. Facebook not only represents this same challenge, but also has the potential for being a rich back-channel for opposition researchers, among others.

In fact, a reporter friend once remarked to me that Facebook was a ‘goldmine’ of information. With a few clicks, an industrious Globe and Mail scribe could find out that the press secretary to a Minister was at a Cinco de Mayo party this month, has interests that include “Ayn Rand, fast boats, ATVing and walks on the beach” and has a Guns ‘N Roses tattoo from earlier, less sophisticated
times.

David Akin, another reporter who is actively involved in the Facebook community, earlier wrote about the social networking phenomenon and then unknowingly highlighted what is likely the reasoning behind this recent decision:

“One of the reasons I wanted to be Harper’s FF [Facebook friend] was so that I could see who Harper’s other FFs were. I’m a nosy parker by profession and it’s my job to find out what his supporters and colleagues in the Conservative party are thinking about. So here was a good chance to invite myself to a virtual party where most (I suspect) are people who either are or would like to be Harper’s real offline friend. Now, the flipside of this is that all of these people at this virtual party of Harper’s friends can also see that I, too, have listed myself as Harper’s “Friend”. So, here I am, a journalist who is paid to provide independent, non-aligned and occasionaly sceptical reports on the Prime Minister and yet, here I am, on a list of his “Friends”.”

The “friend” network of a Conservative ministerial exempt staffer may include Conservatives, high school friends, Liberals, PMO staff and Mark Holland (just for kicks — and to spy on him too to see if he is as ill-timed with the keyboard as he is with what he says in public — he is). And therein lies the biggest problem for a professional network that trades on gossip, leaks and juicy details: while you’re checking them out, you’re open to the same. “Bozo eruptions” are not limited to a backbench MP freelancing opinion about social issues to a small- town newspaper reporter; Facebook, in its ease of use, and its socially reciprocating nature, lowers the threshold of access to and ramps up the rapid dissemination of the information about anyone that is about to ruin their political career.

Of course, staff will be upset by the move as Facebook is easily one of the day’s best diversions as it brings procrastination, web surfing and socializing together in a truly amusing way. However, the decision is a wise one for a team that must deal in this political reality.

The Liberals, predictably, will not follow suit in order to contrast their “openness” and “transparency” to Canadians. In fact, Stephane Dion has been an active participant of the social networking site (“Hello Facebook”). The contrarian move, of course, will be to their folly for the reasons that I outline above. But now, it is the potentially embarrassing Liberal information that is now available while Conservative information has been removed.

It should also be noted that this ban is different from that brought down by Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty. This ban by the Conservatives only applies to ministerial exempt staff. Facebook will still be accessible on their computers, but they are advised not to participate. McGuinty effectively had the Facebook site made inaccessible from Queen’s Park computers for all staff, regardless of their political stripe (or lack thereof). The aim of McGuinty’s ban is to cut down on procrastination while the Conservative ban is to patch up leaks before they occur.